Which camera for Christmas?

I got an email from a colleague asking for my opinion on which camera he should buy for his wife for Christmas.
I wrote a fairly lengthy reply and thought I’d save myself sometime and reprint it here. My friend said his wife wanted a DSLR so here’s the reply:
So let’s say it is an SLR. I can highly recommend Nikon’s D-90 (It’s what I bought my wife.) It’s an older model but comes with all of the advantages of the pro models with a mode dial that includes “Automatic” which lets her shoot right away without any need to refer to the manual or listen to me. (This is an important feature.)
Also the D-90 is compatible with all lenses made by Nikon. Some of the more recent less expensive models can only use lenses with the APS designation. This is not a big deal if you’re not buying too many lenses but for me it was essential. Same thing for the CLS flash system which allows some cameras (like the D-90) to use their built in speed light to control external flash units. Using an external flash controlled by the camera can result in studio like images anywhere. It’s very cool.
I also have a Nikon D-300 and I can’t see the difference in 99.99% of the images taken with it compared to the D-90.
BUT if your wife likes Canon cameras better (and I always bought cameras by how they felt in my hands) then I’d recommend the Canon Digital Rebel T2iHere’s a comparison of the two cameras.
Either camera is going to cause “sticker-shock” but I wouldn’t recommend saving a $150 over ease or use or feeling in the hands.
After you’ve decided on which camera (and I’d buy it with the standard kit lens which is usually something from 18 to 55 mm (in 35mm terms 27mm – somewhat wide to 80 mm somewhat long) and will do for 90% of all shooting. I’d highly recommend the purchase of a 50mm f/1.8 lens which in either system is under $150. This is a “fast” lens capable of shooting without flash in less than ideal situations including indoors at weddings and parties.
Next lens after that is often a dedicated macro. There are always small things to shoot and most macros can be used for portraits as they’re long enough (80mm or more) and fast enough f/2.8 or so to create shallow depth of field. I’ve got the expensive Nikon 105mm macro f/2.8 and it is by far my best lens.
Next is a very wide 10-20mm which if great for landscapes and really crowed party rooms.
Unless you’re shooting birds or airships there’s no need for really long lenses. On the other hand wedding photographers always have 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. Really expensive but really sharp and they usually use full frame DSLRs (the D-90 and Canon Rebels use what’s called a cropped sensor which is smaller than full-frame but a lot cheaper. Full frame bodies start around $1500 and go to $5K fast.)
The next accessory (and this list never ends) is an external flash. Nikon has just brought a new one the SB-700 which is getting great reviews and is much less expensive than my two SB-900s which had a tendency to overheat under extremely heavy pro use. Canon has similar flashes. Don’t buy the cheapest one or the most expensive model. External flash (with a little training) can yield amazing photos under all kinds of conditions.
Now all of these cameras (I think without looking online) will shoot video. If video is important then you want a camera that will shoot 1080 high-def video and has an external microphone plug. This is essential for decent audio which is critical for video. One nice thing about using a DSLR for video is you get to use the fast lenses that can create Spielberg-like images. Having said that, I use a Canon camcorder for most of my professional work.
I can’t recommend getting an extended warranty or a camera case. But a camera bag bigger than what you think you’ll need is pretty handy. I have bags from Think Tank (expense but pro-quality), Crumbler (my favourite) and Lowpro (which makes a bag for every possibility.)
Now if a non-DSLR is a thought: I’d recommend either the Olympus Pen or the Panasonic GF-1 or GF-2.
Ask anything else…this is what I do 🙂 and have a Merry Christmas.
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